For those who still revisit Wisteria Lane, Eva Longoria will always be Desperate Housewives' Gabrielle Solis, a former model turned, well — you know. While Longoria has held a few television roles since (she notably starred on and executive produced Telenovela, a short-lived 2015 NBC sitcom about a non-Spanish speaking telenovela star) she has made her biggest mark behind the scenes in the industry. She executive produced Lifetime's Devious Maids, which ran from 2013 to 2016, and boasts her very first episodic TV directing credit. Since, the actress has helmed episodes of Jane the Virgin, LA to Vegas, Black-ish, The Mick, and, now, Grand Hotel — the latest project from production company UnveliEVAble Entertainment, premiering June 17 on ABC.
"I was watching the telenovela format [of Grand Hotel] from Spain and I fell in love with it," Longoria tells Refinery29 during a set visit last September. "I knew I wanted to adapt it for the English language market. It was full of turns and drama. The stakes were high. It had everything I knew would be a hit. I chased down the rights and optioned it."
Grand Hotel is a soapy series perfect for summer — though on a visit to the Grand Hotel set, Longoria and producing partner Ben Spector tell me that they consider it a family drama first, and mystery-soap second. There's certainly drama: I observe one scene of Alicia (The Fosters' Denyse Tontz) going head-to-head with stepmother Gigi (Devious Maids alum Roselyn Sanchez). Gigi demands Alicia meet with her to go over nitty-gritty hotel details, but Alicia does not want to be on Gigi's schedule — and, more importantly, she has zero interest in being under the thumb of the woman who has married her father and stolen her family. There's a burning rivalry here, but it's cloaked under smiles and passive aggression — not unlike how the women of Desperate Housewives operated when confronted with mean PTA moms and nosy neighbors.
Adapted from Spanish telenovela Gran Hotel, Sanchez's Gigi is the new wife of hotel owner Santiago (Demián Bichir), who has her own ideas about running the business she married into. Santiago's daughter Alicia is still grieving her mother, and loathes Gigi's attempts to fill her mom's role not only in Santiago's heart, but also in the business that belonged to Alicia's mom in the first place.
"There’s a little Cinderella story happening," teases Longoria. "Gigi has two daughters, and she married [Santiago] who has two kids. The blending of their two families is a great well for friction. It’s the two daughters and there is Cinderella, who is our Alicia. Alicia feels like her mother’s life is being erased [with the presence of this new family.]"
Like Desperate Housewives, which began each season with a new mystery to untangle, Grand Hotel also sets up a puzzle that should keep fans guessing and characters perpetually sleuthing.
The original Gran Hotel follows a man who takes a job at the hotel in search of answers about his sister. It's a plot point that will come into play on the English-language adaptation.
"The mystery is the real engine of our show. It’s our way in and how we meet new characters in the pilot," explains Longoria. "We stayed true to the original in that way, as it was a mystery first. [Everyone has a secret], and those secrets overlap."
Yet Gran Hotel is decidedly different from Grand Hotel. For one thing, the Spanish series takes place in the early 20th century aristocratic hotel during the reign of King Alfonso XIII, not modern-day Miami. The new spin on the show's setting allowed Longoria to explore the Latinx experience in America.
"Our world is based in Miami, so I think it’s important as a producer to represent that world authentically. If we’re in Miami, everything about our show should look like Miami, which is 80% Latinx," Longoria says, before adding: "You can’t just do diversity to check a box — it has to be authentic to the world you’re creating. In our show, everything is derived from these cultures, whether it’s the food, the words. It’s important."
Behind the scenes, diversity is just as important. Longoria won't be the only woman directing Grand Hotel — she notes that, should the series receive a fuller second season order, she will include even more women in the directing slate — but she's also particularly excited about the other elements she brought to flesh out the world of the summer series. The writers room, she says, is half women, half diverse, and the look of the show will also be influenced by a woman's eye.
"We were really lucky to get Alison [Kelly], our director of photography," she explains, sharing that Kelly's past credits include the stylish Dietland. "To have a woman DP is awesome. She was an amazing find, and helped us create the tone and look of this show."
Longoria also adds that this series is decidedly anti- male gaze.
"In the pilot, we have so much man candy, which is a real change," she laughs. "It’s usually a woman, in a bikini. The eye candy in our show will be the men."
Longoria knows it's time that women take what's due. She brings her young son, Santiago now 11 months, to the Grand Hotel set whenever possible, doing her part to change the narrative about what women — as mothers, producers, directors, actors — can accomplish in this industry.
"I am documenting everything [when he is on set]," shares Longoria. "I want him to see that women are strong and independent, and can do wonderful, amazing things. He’s going to grow up seeing that ‘Oh my God, my mom had me on set at two months when she was directing [a show.]’ I want him to grow up and see that, and respect that."
A steamy family drama where women are in charge? See you at the Riviera Grand.
Grand Hotel premieres on June 17 at 10 p.m. on ABC